As west African countries battle against a deadly outbreak of the ebola virus, Moses Kortu reports from Sierra Leone on the devastating effect it has had in his home town.
Image: credit Anna Kennedy
Schools, markets, borders and banks have closed in my remote region of north eastern Sierra Leone as the government takes steps to prevent the spread of the virus.
Public life in my home town of Kailahun, near the border with Guinea and Liberia, has come to a complete standstill. I have been tracking the change in attitudes of the people in my community, talking to them about the climate of fear that has spread across the region.
When the ebola outbreak first began, it wasn’t taken seriously. My region is one of the strongholds of the opposition party, so people thought this was done to scare and disperse people.
People in my community were fearful that deaths were caused by the injection given to ebola sufferers as a way for the government to kill them off. But now most believe the virus is the real killer.
Tamba Bundor is trying to spread this message: “I lost five of my family members, including my mother and wife, because of misunderstanding of ebola. Brothers and sisters, ebola is real – take preventative measures.”
Gradually, because of education programmes and the increase in the number of infected cases and deaths, the majority are now starting to believe ebola is real.
There were other reasons preventing people from taking those suffering from ebola to the health centre.
“It is because of the fear that we don’t want to take our people to the health centre, and when they are there we can’t touch them and nobody can go near them,” said Finda Sahr. Now, however, those who fail to bring a sick person from their house or community to the health centre will be reported to the police.
It’s not just the virus which scares the population of Kailahun. The government has restricted movement within the district by setting up checkpoints, instilling fear in people and preventing them from going about their usual business. Business owners have been particularly badly affected.
“I can’t take my business outside because the police are all over,” said Sahr Musu, a trader. With no market, people are asking themselves how they will survive – especially as it is now the farming season – and are waiting on the government to lift the ban.
The head of the checkpoint at Kailahun, Sadie Jabbie, attempted to reassure me: “We are here to protect the lives of the people in this district, not to harm or unbalance anybody.”
The government’s attempts to control the virus have made it even harder for business owners to continue working. The First International Bank, the only bank in the region, has closed indefinitely, causing stress to the population. Markets, border checkpoints and schools have also closed. Even NGOs have started withdrawing for fear of being infected.
A public exam for secondary school pupils was postponed. Before the postponement children were prevented from attending schools and public gatherings were banned in Kailahun to prevent the spread of the virus.
Tenneh Foryoh, head girl of Kissi Bendu secondary school in Koindu, told me: “The closure of schools …has affected the academic pursuits of students in the district and has made students suffer, so I ask the government to allow students to complete the academic year.”
Although people are still dying, the atmosphere is better than before: there is a sense that the situation is being brought under control as the community gains more of an understanding and awareness of the crisis.
On 1 July, President Koroma delivered a message of determination in his first address to the Sierra Leonean on the ebola crisis: “We must defeat this threat to our nation. We must soldier on. We must prevail.”
Moses Kortu trained as a citizen journalist with On Our Radar. Amjata Bayoh and Tamba Tengbeh provided additional research for this article.